Annex A England and Wales and Northern Ireland (E&W and NI)
In England and Wales and Northern Ireland post-mortems are primarily conducted on the authority of the Coroner. The Coroner has a similar, although not identical, function to the Procurator Fiscal in Scotland in relation to the investigation of deaths. The Coroner will instruct such investigations as is necessary to ascertain the cause of death. However, consideration of suspicious deaths involves both the Coroner and the police and seizure of samples, including samples taken at a post-mortem, for the purpose of the criminal investigation will be held under the authority of the police rather than the Coroner. Such samples are listed by the police as exhibits. The relevant Act governing the removal, storage and use and disposal of human tissue samples at post-mortems in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, is the Human Tissue Act 2004, although samples taken for criminal proceedings are excluded from the Human Tissue Authority's (HTA) remit. There are other differences between the jurisdictions. Unlike Scotland, the HTA has the power of inspection of mortuaries and in England and Wales the pathologists are generally self-employed and contracted to perform post-mortems.
Audit of Organs in E&W and NI
In 2010, an audit of organs of significant body parts taken during a post‑mortem following a suspicious death/homicide and no longer required for criminal justice purposes was conducted by police forces in England and Wales and Northern Ireland. It found that 492 organs or significant body parts were held by or on behalf of the police in various establishments but predominantly within storage facilities at scenes of crimes offices, NHS mortuaries and with forensic pathologists. Many of these related to historical cases and pre-dated the governing legislation in England and Wales and Northern Ireland, the Human Tissue Act 2004.
As a result of the audit, ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers), assisted by the then National Police Improvement Agency (NPIA) published a report and made 10 recommendations. The main issues identified in the report were that at the end of an inquiry into a suspicious death, there was a lack of a nationally agreed process to ensure that human tissue was disposed of in an appropriate and timely manner and, as a result, police investigators may have wrongly assumed that human tissue seized at the post-mortem had been disposed of by the medical profession.
The report made 10 recommendations but two of the most significant were that the onus to review the retention of such material during and at the conclusion of the investigation was for the Senior Investigating Officer (SIO) and that a clear process following a decision that the case was no longer suspicious should be agreed between the Coroner and the police.
Following publication, HMIC (Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary) was commissioned to undertake an inspection of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) to provide assurance that the recommendations had been implemented in Northern Ireland. It concluded that the recommendations had largely been achieved although it did identify areas that still required to be progressed to ensure there was a consistent and accurate approach to the recommendations across all relevant organisations.